How to demonstrate that your client’s R&D project is new and innovative

One of the things that can be really difficult when assessing a client’s R&D is working out whether it is truly a ‘new’ development. In this area you’re generally at the mercy of the competent professionals, and it can be tricky to work out what to ask them to be sure that those projects meet HMRC’s criteria. To help, here’s our guide to what you need to analyse and understand to be able to demonstrate to HMRC that your client is doing something new!

Establishing the baseline

Establishing the baseline is absolutely key to demonstrating that an R&D project has produced something new, so it’s very important that you a) understand what is meant by the baseline and b) know what to ask your client so that they can work with you in establishing where the baseline is.

So, first, let’s think about what HMRC means by the baseline of an R&D project. Simply put, it is ‘the baseline in technology that any advance sought is being measured against’. HMRC also point out that ‘An advance in science or technology means an advance in overall knowledge or capability in a field of science or technology, not a company’s own state of knowledge or capability alone.’

From this, we can see that claimant companies are obliged to research what was possible in their industry at the start of the project and show that the advances that they made go over and above this. Most companies will do this as a matter of course – they’ll spend time researching whether anyone else has been able to achieve something at the start of a project so as not to waste time or money on doing unnecessary R&D.

Readily deducible

Over and above establishing the baseline capabilities of the industry at the time of starting the project, you also need to demonstrate that how to achieve the advance was not readily deducible. By this, HMRC means that the knowledge required to achieve the advance was not available in the public domain. The public domain part of that is very important, as it allows for companies to claim for work done to achieve advances where the knowledge required is a protected trade secret, for example.

So, what’s the best way to establish whether something was readily deducible? Do an internet search first of all – if you can’t find any information on the internet then that’s a really good sign that the knowledge isn’t publicly available. Beyond that, checking trade journals and scientific papers can also tell you whether there is any published information about this advance.

What to ask your client?

For all technical aspects of the claim, you need to rely on the competent professionals to help you understand the project and why it was carried out. When thinking about the baseline, it can be very helpful to discuss with your client why they needed to embark on the project. If the initial work of a project assessed current capabilities in the industry and demonstrated that the advance could not be achieved without doing R&D, that’s great – they clearly understand the baseline and have done work to go over and above it!

Questions like ‘what could your main competitors do before you started this project?’ can be very fruitful – it can pull your client away from thinking about their own company and start them thinking about the industry as a whole.

However you get there, making sure that your client has understood and advanced the technical baseline of their industry is vitally important to the success of an R&D tax claim!

Building a Client Pipeline for R&D tax services | Your questions answered

Thanks to everyone who joined us at our “Building a Client Pipeline for R&D tax services” webinar on Monday 22nd February. In collaboration with Mike Crook of PracticeWeb and Phil Sayers of Proten Sales Development, we covered a lot of ground on various R&D-related Sales and Marketing aspects, before opening up the floor to questions which we’ve transcribed below.

For those who prefer the original, we’re attaching a recording of the webinar: click here to access the password-protected recording (Password: #=i2t.HB).

If you’d like to attend future webinars run by WhisperClaims please subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom of this article for notifications on when we’ll be running our next events, and where to register.

If you’d like to get in touch with any of the panelists for further questions, we’ve included their contact details below. Now without further ado…


We have a high percentage of clients who recommend our services to others.  What is the best way to maximize this within the R&D Service we provide?

Phil S: Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals! If you’re doing a good job for your clients and they recognise you’re doing a good job, don’t be afraid to say, ‘do you know of anyone else who you think we might be able to help in a similar way?’ OR ’have you seen anyone else recently who is facing the same sort of challenges you are?’- just don’t be afraid to ask!

If they offer to make referrals for you, ask them to do a personal introduction. Ask them to send an email to their contact that cc’s you in because then it opens up the conversation with the new prospect far more easily than you cold calling them.

Incentives are sometimes offered to stimulate referrals although Phil does not recommend you do this on a finder fee basis. Make it more personal, for example, a box of chocolates. Use emotionally high value gifts to say thank you to anyone who makes referrals to you.

I am thinking of setting a landing page for R&D services with the different name to my company (my practice has a name linked to my location and I feel like the R&D offer shouldn’t be location based). Would that be a good idea or will I be spending double the amount promoting my practice AND R&D services separately?

Mike C: It goes back to how you are positioning it. It sounds like you want to position it as a separate business. If so, then a new website that explains the proposition, has dedicated advice and can be optimised specifically for R&D would be best. You’ll likely find that having just a landing page won’t really make you visible in market (especially in search) or demonstrate your expertise.

What advice would you give to someone who is starting out as an R&D service solely (and accountancy services on the side)? I have a specific niche. What marketing advice (either organic or paid) would you give to them with limited paid marketing budget? (1/2)

Mike C: If you have limited budget, you want to be scrutinising where you are spending it and if it is working best for you – you want to let the data tell you! Try some paid media and see what happens – it doesn’t just have to be PPC in Google. Try some social media paid advertising as well. Find out what is working and what is generating the enquiries and then test other options – perhaps search engine optimisation (SEO). This can take 4-6 months to get some serious traction if you are working from a standing start but it is certainly worth the investment. Pay Per Click (PPC) will get you a visible position on Google immediately but as soon as you stop paying for it you’ll disappear, whereas SEO is an on-going game, but you are there without continually paying to be visible. Again though, just test whatever you do, as with a smaller budget you have got to be really key on the statistics.

Lastly, Is it good to make your price visible for R&D on the website or brochure OR mention the price only on the strategy call/diagnose call? (2/2)

Mike C: This can be complex…

Yes, because it will stop the window shoppers! You can qualify prospects in or out pretty quickly. However, they are going to ask the price at some point in the journey. The key is to ensure that you have a strong value proposition because otherwise it will just be based on price. If you just have very thin content and not a lot explaining it and just a price – especially if it is a high price – prospects are going to be turned off as they will not see the value.

The key take away is to make sure you are explaining the value and what they are getting for that price. Also test it – make the price visible and see what happens, remove it, and see what happens…

Phil S: Pricing has to be put within the context of the value you are delivering and the best way of proving the value you are delivering is with client testimonials. If you can talk about specific cases where you’ve done an R&D tax claim i.e. you’ve generated a tax credit of say £50K for ‘Client A’ and your fee was £5K – even though the new prospect may see £5k as being a relatively high fee, in the context of the £50k claim that they would not have otherwise been awarded, it becomes a no-brainer. So, use your clients to help sell for you. If they are happy, then it’s the best possible source of marketing content.

As an accountant, if we want to compete with the competitors who provide R&D-only services, then from a client perspective where would we stand? Or how can we (the accountants) position ourselves in the R&D market?

Mike C: We see the position of the accountants as a great opportunity – you know your client from an accounting perspective and a numbers perspective and the advice and how ingrained you are within their business helps you to spot opportunities that perhaps an external R&D service wouldn’t. You are in a prime position to spot those opportunities over and above an R&D company, when all they do is R&D. They have to get to know the business, understand the ins and outs of it etc. Where you, as the accountant, already know the challenges and issues from a complete business perspective and not just an R&D one.

Mike D: Just to add to that, if we are talking about an accountant with existing customers, then remember that the accountant is already a trusted adviser and has a relationship with the customer, and that is actually something to really play to. Clearly a third-party walking through the door doesn’t have that relationship so there’s a sort of soft aspect to that, that needs to be ‘exploited’ (for want of a better word)!

To Phil; talking of journeys, I have created an infographic roadmap detailing all our services, creates a good talking point for starters.  Just looking at the best ways to push this out. What would you suggest?

Phil S: It’s a great thing to do, but without seeing it, it is difficult to comment on. The thing to remember with your services is, the services themselves are not what is important. What’s important is the value that the client gets from having your services delivered. The services themselves are sitting on the periphery but what you really need to be focussing on are, what are the particular problems and challenges that you are helping your clients address and the way that you help them is services. So, make sure you focus everything around the value that you deliver, not what you are doing.


Mike Dean, Managing Director of WhisperClaims
Mike Crook, Managing Director of PracticeWeb
Phil Sayers, Founder of Proten Sales Development Ltd

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Guest Post | Phil Sayers: The Top 5 Selling Mistakes That Accountants Make

The term “selling” has a bad reputation in the accounting world. Sales people are seen by accountants as pushy, a pain in the neck, individuals who aren’t genuinely interested in the accountant’s firm, but just interested in making the next sale or, worse still, only interested in getting the accountant to make the next sale for them. With the huge growth in cloud accounting software, accountants are consistently bombarded with emails and calls from sales people all promoting their particular piece of problem-solving technology. It’s all a huge distraction from the real job in hand of looking after their clients’ financial affairs.

The vast majority of accountants have never had any training in how to sell effectively. They go through years of intense technical training becoming experts in helping their clients comply with legal requirements, helping minimise tax liabilities—all the key areas of accounting knowledge that their clients expect them to be experts in. Accounting training simply doesn’t include any reference to the soft skills required to build rapport with clients…it just assumes that the individual can do this already.

Because the years of technical training encourages a mind set of expecting questions to have right or wrong answers (a trial balance should actually balance, a particular service either is or isn’t subject to VAT), it can be a challenge for some to have conversations with clients or prospects where there may not actually be a right or wrong answer.

That’s not to say that all accountants can’t sell… of course they can.

If they didn’t sell at all, then they’d be out of business pretty quickly. It’s really a question of degree; some are naturally good at selling, others are truly awful, and many get by but could definitely be more effective. This was something I found out pretty quickly when I set up Proten Sales Development and went looking for an accountant to work with.

Now I’ve been selling and running sales teams and businesses for my entire career, I analyse the sales skills of people I meet as a matter of course, so it was easy for me to see how different these approaches were, and more importantly, how effective or otherwise they were. It’s no surprise that I chose one of the two “different” accountants, and the working relationship has proved to be just as supportive and constructive as I hoped it would be.

I’ve been working with accountants for years and there are five recurring mistakes accountants make in selling:

1) Assume that clients and potential clients know what help they need

There’s a fundamental difference between what clients (or customers) know what they want and what they actually need. Often, they don’t know what they need because no one has ever asked them the right questions. Unless you take the time to explore what’s going on in a client’s world (professionally and personally), you’re unlikely to uncover all the opportunities to provide additional services.

R&D tax claims fall perfectly into this category. Many SMEs are unaware that they may be eligible to claim and may indeed have been fed misinformation about R&D tax by the large number of service providers in this busy market. By understanding the opportunity for value-add yourself, and asking the right questions, you will be able to position your service affectively and maintain your position as a “trusted advisor”.

2) Assume that clients understand the value of the services being provided

The value that we provide our customers is not what we do… it’s why we do it. For example, the value in completing and submitting an R&D tax claim for a client is not the process of doing this, or even the price that we charge, the value is the peace of mind we provide to the client in knowing that they’re not going to get a brown envelope from HMRC, and that they have accessed an appropriate tax benefit that they are genuinely entitled to. If we don’t explain the value of what we do to our clients, they’ll only ever see us as a cost.

3) Fail to differentiate from the competition​

Most businesses, especially accountants, operate in a competitive market. Potential clients have multiple options to choose from and will have done their basic research before they ever make contact with us. If their research doesn’t identify anything that’s different between us and our competitors, what are they going to focus on to make their selection?…cost!

4) Believe that Pitching = Selling​

Explaining a list of your services and your fee structure isn’t selling, it’s pitching. Professional selling is the process of identifying problems that our clients have, understanding the impact of not resolving those problems, and then offering solutions to those problems. If you start to think of selling as “helping” and you’ll make a bigger impact and get better results.

5) Think that accountants shouldn’t or don’t need to sell

You might have a steady stream of new enquiries but its important to remember that every firm loses clients… whether that’s because they move to another firm, or they cease trading, retire or sell their business. So in order to just stand still, we still need to find new clients and in an ideal world, we’d want to be working with the right type of clients for us. If we sell professionally, we get to choose which clients we work with.

Selling isn’t an “art”, effective selling is a set of skills and techniques that can be learned and improved over time.


Phil Sayers

About Proten

Proten Sales Development’s founder is Phil Sayers. He helps Accountants and B2B business owners improve the effectiveness of their selling activities and ultimately build a better business. He has worked for, run and owned small businesses, and has worked with Accountants for many years, so he understands the mind set it takes to be successful, and understands the pressure that Accountants and Business owners have to handle every day.

Proten Sales Development provides 1-2-1 and group sales training and there’s even an online, on demand sales training programme “EPIC Selling”. For Accountants who want more intensive support, we also provide 1-2-1 coaching and Mastermind Groups.

For more information go to www.protensd.co.uk or arrange a free exploratory chat at Phil@protensd.co.uk or by calling 07776203431


Phil Sayers is speaking at our free webinar ‘Building a client pipeline for R&D tax services on the 22nd of February 2021.

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Join the discussion on how to win more business, service more clients and make better R&D claims. This free webinar is perfect for both accountants & consultants looking to expand their service offerings to relevant clients.

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Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Guest Post | Mike Crook: Three tips to make your R&D service irresistible to potential clients

Starting a new service is a great way to increase your revenue and enhance your accountancy firm’s proposition to the market.

When your practice launches a new specialist service, you’ve got to decide how to package it, how to promote it and, of course, how to attract the right type of client. Service packaging is essentially about presentation. How do you explain what a buyer will get for their money in a clear, compelling way?

I’m Mike Crook, the managing director of PracticeWeb, which is a marketing agency that works exclusively with accounting firms, to help them grow. At PracticeWeb we help firms take new services to market, advise on how to position them within the market, how to package them up and promote them to attract the right clients.

I’ve pulled together three tips based on the process we use when consulting with accounting firms on how to launch a new service. Follow this advice and you’ll be on the way to making your R&D service irresistible to potential clients.

Who’s the service for?

Before you begin to communicate with someone, you need to fully understand them. Being able to effectively engage with customers or potential customers requires a sound understanding of who they are and what challenges they face.

In the case of R&D, it’s about identifying eligible clients to start with. Are they in sectors which are likely to be undertaking R&D, such as engineering, IT or the creative industries? Would you consider them to be innovative in their approach?

Next, it’s about gaining an in-depth understanding beyond just the standard demographic data (age, gender etc) and their eligibility. What keeps them up at night? What are their frustrations, their goals and their aspirations?

This insight is what you’ll use to craft effective messaging and compelling content. It’s also what you’ll want to build your R&D packages around.

Build the perfect packages

Why package your service? It’s the age-old saying: make it easy for a prospect to buy. By packaging up your services, you reduce the information a prospect has to process and simplify the decision they need to make. You’re removing barriers (reasons to say “No”) and prompting them to buy your services, faster.

Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client comparing what you offer with your competition. You want yours to stand out, resonate with their needs and be easy to digest so they choose you over your competitors.

There are four basic rules to follow when it comes to packaging your services:

  1. Make it easy to digest – the terms of the services need to be easy to understand.
  2. Be specific – be clear about what they get and when.
  3. Use clear language – make it relatable and jargon free.
  4. Avoid making assumptions about what the potential client does and doesn’t know.

Demonstrate your expertise

In an increasingly competitive environment, with more demanding clients, and a complicated buyer journey, your services need to stand out from the crowd.

If you’re launching a new service, you won’t have a track record to build upon. Your clients won’t know you offer this service and the market you work in won’t know either. And you’ll be up against well-established competitors who already have the proof to demonstrate they can deliver.

You have to start small, but think big. This is where your marketing strategy and plan comes into play.

Putting together a solid marketing strategy means you can target your products with messaging, content and information that demonstrate your expertise within this new service, builds your reputation and ensures your visibility in the market. Once you have a few clients taking up your service, ask them for case studies and testimonials. These will help to back up what you claim you can do for prospects and the results you have achieved.

How can you get started?

If you want to get started with taking your R&D service to market, we’ve created a step-by-step guide on how to package, price and promote your accounting firms services which you can download for free on the PracticeWeb website.

Should you need help with taking your R&D service to market you can get in touch with us at PracticeWeb by phone on 0117 915 0420 or by email.


Mike Crook is speaking at our free webinar ‘Building a client pipeline for R&D tax services on the 22nd of February 2021.

Join the discussion on how to win more business, service more clients and make better R&D claims. This free webinar is perfect for both accountants & consultants looking to expand their service offerings to relevant clients.

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Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

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Vote for us! – ‘The Best Non-Accounting Cloud or Banking App of the Year’

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably considering casting your vote for WhisperClaims at the Accounting Excellence Awards 2020. If so, that’s great! You won’t find us in the main categories (we’re not an accounting firm after all), but our software has been used by accountants to achieve great success in the world of R&D tax relief.

If you want to support us taking home ‘Best Non-Accounting Cloud or Banking App of the Year’, there’s a couple more steps than usual, but we’re here to help you speed through them.

NOTE: As you’ll see below, only financial professionals/accountant users can vote in this bracket. If you don’t fit this demographic, then keep your eyes peeled on our LinkedIn for future nominations that are 100% public-accessible!


STEP 1

Head to: https://www.accountingexcellence.co.uk/software-survey/. You’ll be greeted by the screen below; click on the blue ‘VOTE NOW’ button underneath the section’s title.

Accounting Excellence Voting Page

STEP 2

Input your email address when prompted to do so, and click the arrow to progress.

STEP 3

Fill out the multiple-choice questions with relevant information as it pertains to your financial firm/practice/other.

Accounting Web Voting Section 1

STEP 4

Make sure your vote goes to the correct place:

  • What category would you like to rate a product for?
    From the drop-down, scroll down and select Best Non-Accounting Cloud or Banking App of the Year
  • What non-accounting cloud or banking app are you voting for?
    From the drop-down, scroll down and select WhisperClaims

Accounting Web Voting Section 2

STEP 5

Fill in the sliders at the end (as well as the optional written paragraph if you wish to) and hit send.

And that’s it, you’re done! Each and every vote counts towards our win, so feel free to spread the word to any financial practitioners/accountants in your firm who might also want to help. Voting closes October 26th 2020, so make sure you get in there before it’s too late.

Webinar: “Building an in-house R&D tax service”

Partners in the firms we talk to are generally looking to develop their practice through two primary means; delivering new services to existing clients, or winning new business. In fact, every one of our WhisperClaims app users have engaged with us to address one—or both—of these needs in the first place. Most users have either:

  • Dabbled in the R&D tax market themselves previously, but perhaps found the legislation too difficult or time-consuming to address
  • Had clients who are working with third party consultants, slowing down time and driving up costs.

In both cases, what they are looking to do is to find a way to take control of this service delivery and build an in-house, own-brand service.

Who can blame them? This is an expanding market, with government investment in R&D soaring to over £22 billion p.a. and the numbers of SME applicants to the R&D tax market have consistently risen by around 20% p.a. for the last few years.

So what are the steps to safely achieve such growth?

Our WhisperClaims users have some great stories to tell to bring the whole journey of delivering an in-house R&D tax service to life.

In just two years of operation—all while servicing a niche market—over 250 WhisperClaims users have identified more than £20 million in tax benefits across 750 claims. Within that there are some real nuggets; stories from our users who’ve found claims for their clients worth thousands of pounds, often times from work they never thought would be eligible.

To get the word out, we’re running a webinar later this month that explains the benefits of building an in-house R&D service, with Alan Woods of Woods Squared and Phil Ellerby of Northern Accountants Ltd joining to share their fantastic experiences working with our software to offer real value to their clients.

Spaces still open! Click the button below or the link here for information:

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